Adult children of narcissistic parents can have some pretty unique problems in life. Narcissism always damages relationships. And narcissistic parenting particularly takes a toll on children. All children are different. So, each child’s experience with a narcissistic parent can affect them quite differently. Many other variables affect how a parent’s narcissism harms a child, too. And in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at several of them.
Some adult children of narcissistic parents struggle with chronic feelings of insecurity. Others have difficulty developing a healthy, stable sense of self. Sadly, still others end up repeating many of the same patterns and behaviors that so negatively affected their character development. It’s almost impossible for narcissistic parents not to damage a child’s self-image. But exactly what kind of damage they inflict can vary considerably.
Growing Up under the Shadow of the Gaslight
Last week, I wrote about narcissists always having to be right. (See: Why Narcissists Always Have to Be Right.) This can profoundly damage a child’s development. Children need to learn what’s real and what isn’t. And they need to learn what’s true and what isn’t. These are inherently difficult tasks, even in the best of circumstances. But they become almost impossible when you’re parented by a narcissist. For many narcissists, reality is what they say it is. And truth is how they choose to define it. They respect no higher power or authority. So, they don’t subordinate themselves to any more objective standard of judgment.
Adult children of narcissistic parents can spend years overcoming the effects of childhood gaslighting. That’s the crazy-making feeling narcissists can give you, especially the covert ones. Deep down, you sense they’re trying to tear you down. But then they insist you’re imagining it. Or you sense they’re misrepresenting things. But they’ll somehow convince you that you’re the one who’s confused. I introduced this concept in the very first edition of In Sheep’s Clothing. But at the time, we didn’t have a word for it. And we didn’t know as much about it as we do today. Still, it’s a very real and most unfortunate phenomenon.
Narcissists make you doubt yourself. You can even begin to doubt your sanity. But the worst thing that can happen is when you begin to doubt who you truly are. Narcissists are good at subtly belittling and demeaning. And when someone tells you often enough that you just don’t get it or don’t measure up, it leaves a mark. The damage is even worse when they preach how much they love you but their actions say otherwise.
(For more, see: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.)
Repeating the Pattern
Adult children of narcissistic parents can unwittingly repeat destructive patterns. And they can do this in many different ways. We’ll be exploring some of those ways in the coming weeks.
Check the PESI website in about a month for the new and admittedly limited workshop schedule.
And look for an announcement soon about the upcoming release of the Spanish Language edition of In Sheep’s Clothing.